• About CIVIC

    CIVIC is a Washington-based non-profit organization that believes the civilians injured and the families of those killed should be recognized and helped by the warring parties involved.

    On this blog, you will find stories from our travels around the world as we meet with civilians and military, aid organizations and government in our quest to get war victims the help they need.

  • Countries

  • Contributors

    Sarah, Executive Director

    Marla B, Managing Director

    Kristele, Field Director

    Liz, Chief Communications Officer

    Trevor, CIVIC's fellow based in Afghanistan

    Chris, CIVIC's fellow based in Pakistan

    Jon, CIVIC's US military consultant

  • Media Content

AFGHANISTAN: Civilians caught in the middle

By Kristele Younes

When civilians die in war, the public is understandably outraged. In Afghanistan, in the past few months, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has come under heavy criticism from President Karzai for a series of incidents that have cost innocent lives. Fueled by the President’s statements, public anger is mounting, which ISAF will be the first to admit is not helpful to the international mission in Afghanistan. Furthermore, the Taliban continue to indiscriminately kill scores of civilians, violating international laws and basic humanity.

War is perhaps never more tragic than when it takes the lives of the most innocent. All incidents of civilian casualties should appeal to our global consciousness. Indeed, even if some harm might be unavoidable because of the very nature of modern warfare, a lot can be done to prevent these tragedies and mitigate the pain caused to victims, their families, and their communities.

ISAF has publicly declared its commitment to minimizing civilian harm in Afghanistan in many statements issued by the highest levels of its chain of command. Indeed, protecting civilians in Afghanistan is not only a moral imperative, but a strategic one for coalition forces. But is enough being done?

In the past year, ISAF has strengthened its system to track each incidence of civilian casualties countrywide, and every incident is investigated either by the field unit or by a special team. This is a welcome step on several levels. First, it shows that ISAF recognizes the importance of keeping track of civilian harm. Second, it could enable the troops to understand what went wrong and prevent future harm. Third, it can help international forces make amends to those hurt by recognizing what civilian losses exist and where they are. But for this system to be truly effective, more needs to be done. Indeed, ISAF needs to be better at reaching out to different actors to gather increased situational awareness and, most importantly, troop-contributing nations must all adopt a uniformed way to compensate those they harm.

For all the system’s flaws, credit must be given to ISAF for its efforts, and statistics show that in the past year, the number of casualties caused by international troops has consistently gone down.  In the period of much talked about transition, though, it is essential that the international community and especially the Afghan government start paying much closer attention to the harm caused (or which could potentially be caused) by Afghan forces. The Afghan army lacks the basic mechanisms to record and investigate civilian harm, let alone compensate for it. ISAF must make it a top priority to help Afghans create trainings and programs parallel to its own. President Karzai must also move away from the war of rhetoric by acknowledging that Afghans have a responsibility in protecting their own civilians, and by ensuring that his armed forces make minimizing harm a top priority.

As for the anti-government forces, which according to the UN were responsible in May 2011 for over 80% of all civilian casualties, they have to wonder if their disregard for civilian harm is the best strategy in seeking national reconciliation and power-sharing. Certainly, Afghans deserve their suffering—and safety—to be a priority for whoever will end up governing them.

LIBYA: Souheid’s story

By Kristele Younes

When I met Souheid, I was already overwhelmed by the toll this conflict is taking on civilians. But Souheid made me understand that I was only seeing the tip of the iceberg. Lying on his bed in a Benghazi hospital, this 8 year-old told me of how his whole life changed after a missile landed in the Misrata house he, his parents, his four siblings and their extended family of fourteen were sharing. “I don’t know what happened,” Souheid told me. “But one minute, we were all sleeping in the same room, away from all the windows to protect ourselves from bullets, and the next, I woke up in the hospital.” Souheid’s prognosis was so dire that he was immediately transferred to the Benghazi hospital I visited him in, where doctors can attend to him without fearing the hospital could be bombed at any moment.

Souheid will likely feel physical pain for the rest of his life. But it was abundantly clear to me, and to his father who sits by his bedside, that the emotional impact of what happened to his family will be much harder to overcome. That night in Misrata, Souheid lost a sister, a brother, his grandmother, his aunt, and three of his cousins.

Souheid and other victims of war need to have their suffering acknowledged. Although it is never possible to make up for these kinds of losses, warring parties should make amends by recognizing the harm and ensuring civilians have the tools they need to regain control of their lives.

Those fighting for a new Libya need to remember that it will be built by the very people who are victimized by the conflict, those who deserve to have their losses recognized and dignified. For Souheid’s and Libya’s sake, preventing, minimizing and addressing civilian harm must be at the heart of both national and international efforts in Libya.

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One Minute Update: Libya

Imam, a Libyan woman whose husband was killed last month while out buying food, told CIVIC: “I don’t want my husband to be just another statistic.”

Kristele just returned from Benghazi, in Eastern Libya, where she met with civilian victims and their families to assess their losses and needs. She met many like Imam, mourning lost loved ones or watching over their injured in the overflowing hospitals. CIVIC’s job now is to advise NATO and opposition forces on minimizing civilian harm, and ensure each and every victim is recognized and helped. We believe Imam’s husband is more than a statistic.

Read more from Kristele’s trip to Libya: BLOG: Harmed civilians need protection too

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LIBYA: Harmed civilians need protection too

By Kristele Younes

Heading into Libya was quite an experience. As the conflict rages on, and the no-fly zone is enforced by the international community, the town of Benghazi in eastern Libya was only accessible by road from Egypt. Yet the nineteen hours it took to get there from Cairo were not enough to prepare myself for the reality I witnessed when I finally reached my destination.

Since the conflict erupted between the Libyan regime headed by Mouammar Qaddafi and rebel opponents, now led by a transitional government in Benghazi, nobody knows exactly how many civilians have been killed, wounded, or have simply disappeared. In a country that is now literally separated into two distinct zones—east and west—it has proven extremely challenging for civil servants and human rights activists to track and record civilian harm. Estimates by the Libyan opposition put the number of deaths at around 10,000. As for the wounded and those who have vanished, I was told there are simply too many to keep track of.

And yet, every single one of these people is a human being who deserves to be recognized as a war victim, and to receive amends from the warring parties.

The Libyan opposition seems to understand this, and have committed to making amends to those civilians hurt by war. CIVIC ensures they have the capacity, the know-how, and resources to do so.

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